First indictment in corruption probe at court as graft summaries leaked

A public prosecutor on Friday completed an indictment regarding corruption and bribery claims which became public after a major police operation on Dec. 17, 2013 and sent the document to a deputy chief prosecutor in İstanbul, who, after approving the document, forwarded the indictment to a high criminal court.

On Thursday night a Twitter account behind a string of leaks in the corruption scandal posted what it presented as police files detailing graft allegations against four former ministers. The documents revealed bribes received from businessmen by the ex-ministers.

Prosecutor Ekrem Aydıner, who is at the helm of the corruption and bribery investigation, presented the indictment to İstanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Orhan Kapıcı. The indictment concerns suspects detained in the investigation into İstanbul’s Fatih Municipality, news sources said.

Kapıcı approved the indictment shortly after receiving it and sent the document to the İstanbul 20th High Criminal Court for examination. The court has 15 days to either accept the indictment or send it back to the prosecutors for revision.

Reports said the indictment includes 21 suspects who are accused of “giving and accepting bribes,” “destroying or obscuring official documents” and “violating Law No. 2863 on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets,” among other things.

No details from the indictment were immediately available.

News sources said the primary suspect in the indictment is Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir. The mayor was detained on Dec. 17 as part of the major corruption operation along with the sons of three former ministers, businessmen and bureaucrats. The mayor was later released pending trial after being questioned by a court.

Today’s Zaman learned that an investigation into the sons of three former ministers — Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar — is still ongoing. A separate indictment will be prepared against them by prosecutor Aydıner.

On Dec. 17, İstanbul police raided, along with several addresses, the Fatih Municipality building and detained 37 people, including Mayor Demir and his brother Sebahattin Demir. Ten of the suspects were arrested following their questioning by a court in İstanbul. However, the suspects were recently released pending trial.

On Thursday night a Twitter account using the pseudonym Haramzadeler (sons of thieves) posted online links to a 299-page document and a 32-page document of what it presented as summaries of proceedings on four former Cabinet ministers facing corruption allegations.

The authenticity of the documents was not immediately verified. The four former ministers — Interior Minister Güler, Economy Minister Çağlayan, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Bayraktar and EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış — resigned from their posts roughly one week after the major graft operation. They have denied any wrongdoing.

The graft summaries on the four ex-ministers were sent to Parliament in late February, where a summary would usually be read aloud to deputies. However, Parliament went into recess for the election campaign period shortly after and the files have been kept under lock and key ever since.

On Thursday, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a petition to Parliament signed by 132 of its deputies for an extraordinary session to be held on March 18 to address the summaries of proceedings on the former ministers.

According to the leaked documents, the accusations leveled against Güler, Çağlayan and Bağış are compiled in a 299-page summary of proceedings. The summary against Bayraktar consists of 32 pages.

In the documents, Çağlayan is accused of accepting bribes 28 times amounting to $52 million. He stands accused of “establishing a criminal group for the purpose of committing crimes,” “conducting imports with fake documents” and “violating the Anti-Smuggling Law.” In one of his phone conversations with Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, which were legally wiretapped by the police and prosecutors involved in the corruption investigation, said the documents, the ex-minister was heard telling Zarrab to increase gold exports to Iran from Turkey.

Suspects in the corruption investigation have been criticized for engaging in oil-for-gold exchanges with Iran. It is suspected that some several tons of gold may have been traded with Iran for oil. According to Turkish media reports last year, Turkey traded nearly 60 tons of gold for several million tons of Iranian crude oil, despite its promises to observe Western sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. By using gold instead of money, Turkey was able to skirt Western sanctions on Iran’s oil trade, particularly those pertaining to SWIFT, the global money transfer service that until recently assisted the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions.

The summary of proceedings also suggested that Zarrab, who was arrested but later released pending trial as part of the corruption investigation, had financed AK Party surveys. According to the documents, Zarrab transferred TL 352,000 to Çağlayan’s advisor, Mehmet Sarı, on June 28, 2013, to be used to cover the costs of conducting surveys by the AK Party.

According to the summary of proceedings, Güler stands accused of accepting bribes 10 times amounting to $10 million. He is also accused of “establishing a criminal group with the purpose of committing crimes,” “abusing his authority” and “protecting the guilty.”

In addition, Bağış is accused of accepting three bribes amounting to $1.5 million.

According to the summary of proceedings, an investigation into Bayraktar began following a separate investigation into construction mogul Ali Ağaoğlu. In 2012, the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs launched an investigation into a project known as “Maslak 1453,” which would be built by Ağaoğlu, after claims that the ministry had allocated part of Fatih Forest for the project. After realizing that its project would encounter problems, Ağaoğlu contacted then-Minister Bayraktar through his son, Abdullah Oğuz Bayraktar, to resolve the issue.

The document said Bayraktar helped Ağaoğlu undergo ministry inspections free of any problems. The ex-minister did the same favor for other construction moguls as well, the document added. According to the document, the former minister illegally changed the zoning plans of some first-degree environmentally protected zones in İstanbul’s Ataköy, Kadıköy and Tuzla districts and opened them up to construction.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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